ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The charge from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) in 1994 was straightforward, but that doesn't mean it was simple: Find a way to expedite the movement of freight across the US-Mexico border.
Sandia National Laboratories, with funding from the New Mexico Highway Department and the Federal Highway Administration via the New Mexico-based Alliance for Transportation Research, took on the challenge.
Less than three years later, New Mexico's senior senator was at the border crossing at Santa Teresa, N.M., near El Paso and Juarez, to display the results of his mandate and Sandia's efforts.
During a demonstration and press briefing, Domenici, joined by Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.) and other officials, was shown Sandia's ATIPE system - Advanced Technologies for International Intermodal Ports of Entry. Sandia developed ATIPE from the ground up, adopting existing technologies and creating new ones, merging them into a seamless whole designed specifically to expedite the movement of commercial traffic back and forth across the border more safely, securely, and efficiently.
ATIPE, says project manager Brad Godfrey, is built on three technologies: An automated tracking system, a process map that shows all the steps in shipping goods across the border, and a collaborative information system.
Sandia's Authenticated Tracking and Monitoring System (ATMS) has been adapted for ATIPE. The system tracks the physical movement and status of cargo - not vehicles, but sealed, containerized goods - being shipped. ATMS, developed in Sandia's Security Systems and Technology Center, has been used in nonproliferation applications. For example, it has been employed in Russia, tracking the movement of special nuclear materials. The tracking system, says Godfrey, was readily adaptable to the border shipping challenge.
ATIPE uses satellite communication to report cargo status to shippers and border officials in near-real time via the Internet with a system developed in Information Systems Engineering Center.
The process map methodology was developed in Environmental Information and Technology Center for the demand-activated manufacturing application and customized for the ATIPE program. The process map shows the entire shipment process. The map reads like a flow chart. It depicts all the steps involved in both the physical handling of the material (like the truck moving across the border, paying tolls, being weighed), and the informational part of the process (filling out the forms, the permits, the reports, and making sure US and Mexican customs have the all the paperwork they need to approve a border crossing).
The process map, based on hundreds of interviews with affected parties on both sides of the border, is so detailed and thorough, Godfrey says, that it has been a revelation to many of those involved to see how complex the cross-border shipping process really is.
While the tracking of cargo and the schematic of the entire process are important, Godfrey says the "heart" of ATIPE is the intelligent information system developed for the project based on Sandia's work with General Motors on product lifecycle systems. The Internet-based system, Godfrey says, makes possible collaboration among all the stakeholders in a particular shipment - government agencies (Mexican and US), shippers, carriers, consignees, and brokers.
The best way to describe the information system is by example:
"Here's what happens with a shipment now," Godfrey says. "A manufacturer in the US or Mexico starts the shipment going."
The manufacturer says, "I've got something I need to ship into Mexico." So he or she fills out some forms and sends them to a broker and then starts to make arrangements to contract a carrier to take the shipment across the border.'
One after another, every party involved in the transaction is brought into the deal, each adding appropriate information and passing this on to the next stakeholder.
"So you've got all these people sending paperwork back and forth," Brad says. "With our system, we take everybody in the process - we know who they are because of the process map - and link them together across the Internet."
"With ATIPE, instead of this serial 'fill out a form, pitch it over the wall to the next guy' kind of thing, it's a collaborative process. Everybody fills out the forms together."
For the ATIPE system, Godfrey says, the team developed intelligent agents, little software "go-fers" smart enough to notify stakeholders whenever they need to get involved in a particular shipment. With the intelligent agents riding herd, every interested party gets near-simultaneous hands-on access to the part of the transaction relevant to them. And it's all done as a distributed system on the Internet, so the infrastructure costs are just about nil. The price of admission to the system, essentially, is the cost of a copy of a Web browser.
"Now they [the stakeholders] each have parts of the transaction they are responsible for," Godfrey says, "but there are also things in the information stream that they don't need to see about each other's business. As a result, we've designed the information system to be not only collaborative, but also secure - it's smart enough to respect and protect the proprietary information of each stakeholder."
"That's another key reason why Sandia is in this. We have all sorts of information-security expertise developed for our primary nuclear weapons mission."
According to Godfrey, ATIPE's beauty is that it takes a macro-oriented, total systems approach to the issue of commercial border traffic. And because ATIPE expedites movement of "good guys" between Mexico and the US, the system by default enables both Mexican and US border officials to spend more time on their real mission: interdiction of contraband, including illegal drugs.
"Where our project is different from most border projects is that we didn't focus exclusively on the border crossing itself," Godfrey says. "We took the whole process from factory to factory; we took the process back several steps. If you focus only on the border, your options are fairly limited as to how you're going to expedite traffic movement. You're essentially focusing on just one little part of the process — basically two or three boxes out of 60 on the process map."
If the ATIPE system were adopted at the border, how effective would it be in actually speeding up movement of freight? An analysis performed by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) found that if half of the shipments crossing the US-Mexican border used these technologies, the average waiting time for all trucks could be cut in half. The same analysis showed that with the Sandia technologies the ports of entry could handle twice as much traffic as the present maximum without having to add personnel or infrastructure.
According to Godfrey, the Alliance for Transportation Research (Sandia, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of New Mexico, New Mexico State, and the New Mexico Highway Department) may seek additional funding to further refine the ATIPE system prior to any attempts to commercialize it. Even at its current stage of development, Godfrey says, shippers, carriers, brokers, and other affected parties are impressed with ATIPE's capabilities and eager to have it become available for widespread use.
And Sen. Domenici, who kicked off the whole effort, is clearly impressed with the outcome.
"This technology is truly a step in the right direction," he said at the Santa Teresa demonstration. "By using the ATIPE system at our international borders, we will not only be expediting the border crossing process, but also giving our customs officials an important tool in the drug interdiction efforts."
Sandia is a multiprogram Department of Energy laboratory operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities in Albuquerque and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has broad-based research and development programs contributing to national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.
Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy.
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